Why Learning to Read is Difficult

The English language is complex.

If you think about this statement for a moment, you are likely come up with a list of reasons the English language is complex, such as:

  • The alphabet has 26 letters, but many letters have more than one sound.
  • Some words have silent letters.
  • Some words are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings.
  • Some words are spelled the same but are pronounced differently.

When you consider the many complexities of our language, it is clear that learning to read can be a struggle, even for native English speakers.

Reading is not hardwired.

Reading is likely automatic for you. But here are some facts.

Reading is not a natural process.

Unlike speaking, reading does not occur organically. We learn to speak words because we hear spoken language. But we do not learn to read words by being surrounded by words and books. Rather, our brains must be trained to make the necessary connections to become proficient readers. So even though reading may now be very natural for you, it required the knowledge and practice of specific skills to be mapped into your brain.

What the Science of Reading Tells Us

The science of reading refers to the decades of research in a variety of fields that have focused on how the human brain learns to read. Simply put, learning to read requires our brains to work hard!

To read a single word, our brains must:

  • recognize the letters in the word
  • know the sounds the letters make in the word
  • put the letters/sounds together to form a word
  • make sense of the meaning of the word

As shown in this graphic, this all takes the work of four different regions of the brain. EAB’s Narrowing the Third-Grade Reading Gap explains, “Each region plays a role in various human functions—speech, sound, sight, and processing meaning—all of which are necessary for reading.”

When the brain makes these connections for a word, the word is stored permanently in our brains in a process called orthographic mapping. Orthographic mapping is critical for fluent reading. As proficient readers, we have mapped thousands of words so that reading words—and understanding them—happens automatically. But for beginning readers, the skills that lead to orthographic mapping must be taught explicitly and systematically.

It’s no wonder that teaching children to read is difficult! Fortunately, we have a science-supported tool that helps!

See the next blog in this series to discover a tool you can use in your classroom to help your students build the skills necessary to become proficient readers.